Practical Tips For Your Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Treks

The Fishtail

Without a doubt one of my travel highlights has been trekking in the Himalayas – the tallest mountains in the world. Amongst spectacular scenery and an awesome sense of scale is a mountain culture with quaint villages, temples, strings of prayer flags and friendly locals. The most popular treks in this vast mountain range are the Everest Base camp trek (in the north of Nepal) and trails around the Annapurna Himalayas (in the west of Nepal) – either the Annapurna Base Camp trek or the epic Annapurna Circuit.

I’ve recently been writing articles about trekking to Everest Base Camp and Mount Kilimanjaro for AlienAdv; an adventure holiday booking site, in conjunction with owner Kshaunish Jaini. If you’re thinking about doing Everest Base Camp or Kilimanjaro, or just interested about the mountains, check out the newest articles there, including:
The Classic Everest Base Camp Trek
Alternate Routes for the Everest Base Camp Trek
Deaths on Everest (facts, causes and precautions).

Looking down from ABC

With mountains on the brains recently I thought it would be cool to write an article sharing some of my Himalayan trekking tips, gained the best way – through my own mistakes and hardships! Of course there’s a ton of my photos from the region to enjoy too. Let’s get into it!

1 – Use a Walking Stick!

When I started mountain trekking, I scoffed at all the people using walking sticks. For the older trekkers I could understand, but I didn’t really think they were necessary for younger folk. How wrong I was! What I’d never understood about walking sticks is how much they help in every aspect of mountain trekking. Basically what they’re doing is distributing the work from just your poor overworked legs and instead sharing it out over the rest of your body.

Eat it Potter!

What does that mean? Well, when you’re going uphill, the stick is giving you a boost forward, you almost use it like a lever to propel yourself upwards. This is great, but I actually found the stick most useful when going downhill. Although you might think you’re constantly going uphill when climbing to the Himalayan Base Camps, in fact you’re going up and down steep valleys all the time. Downhill segments might seem like a god-send, but soon I started dreading them. They put a big strain on your thighs and worst of all, your knees – a lot of people on these treks get knee pain and problems as a result. My dad even wrecked his knee doing the notorious Ulleri steps at Annapurna many years ago. Using a stick really helps to reduce the impact when you’re going up and downhill and it really reduced the pain and aching for me on my trek.

On top of that, you just save energy overall using a stick. For Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Base Camp, you don’t even need a fancy expensive pole – you can often buy cheap wooden ones from stores on the trail. On one trek I simply used a bamboo pole that my guide hacked off in a bamboo forest on the trail – and I kept it for months, it was both light and strong! One final tip about sticks – using two sticks is even better than one. If you don’t mind having both your hands full, it’s really gives you a boost. Sticks for the win!

Two of my favourite things, pizza and the highest mountains in the world, together at last!

2 – Food, Food, Food!

First of all, be prepared to eat – a lot! You’d be amazed at how hungry you get when you are walking 8 or more hours a day. You burn an insane amount of calories when you’re climbing. Make sure you bring enough money for big meals and snacks throughout the day. Also be aware that prices for food and accommodation rise the further you get from civilisation, as everything is brought up via porter or mule. To give you an example, I was paying over double the amount for meals near Annapurna Base Camp as I was in the first few days of the trek!

Portions sizes are usually big, and the cheapest is the famous dahl baht – rice and lentil soup with various sides. This can be really tasty and it gives you loads of energy. My guides and porters refused to eat anything else for ten days even when I offered to pay for a change in their diet!

Typical trekking snack shop

If, like most trekkers, you’re going to be eating at the village teahouses, be aware that the meal variety is going to be quite basic, although some larger places have German bakeries and other niceties. Expect a lot of Nepalese basics, Italian and Chinese dishes. The biggest thing to note is that you will be ingesting a ton of carbohydrates and protein such as rice, bread, pasta and meat. What does this mean? It means it’s really easy for your digestive system to get clogged up, especially if you don’t usually eat that many carbs! Ok, you don’t want to hear this, but it’s important – I’m not joking when I say I was constipated for over 5 days during one of these treks. That was a total nightmare. I couldn’t even sleep properly because of it. So how do you deal with this? Make sure to mix up your diet with plenty of fruit or dried fruit, which you can usually buy in the villages. Try not to eat too much meat and drink lots of fluids (you should be anyway). If you can’t go to the loo, speak to a local or a guide, it’s a common problem and they should be able to point you in the right direction for good food or medicine to take. Don’t be embarrassed, they’ve heard it all before!

I decided to stick with tradition and ate veggy only from this point.

Finally, be aware of the local mountain culture and their attitude towards meat. This is similar on both the Everest Base Camp and Annapurna treks. They believe that eating certain meats above a certain height is a religious offense, essentially angering the mountain spirits. You will see signs warning you of this. Of course, in the reality of commercial tourism, you can still buy meat above these altitudes, but really, it’s in poor taste to do so. Respect local custom and go without for a few days. There’s other reasons for forgoing meat the higher up you get – often it has been brought up by porter/mule from lower climbs and its quality/safety can’t be guaranteed. I’ve heard some nasty food poisoning tales from mountain meat, and you really don’t want that when you’re so close to your final goal! Also, meat gets super expensive the higher you get. Stick to dahl baht and eat like the locals!

3 – Drink and Heat

On the subject of drink, make sure you drink lots of water, often. It’s very easy to become dehydrated through sweating from all the hard work you’re doing, and also the often hot mountain days. The thing about dehydration is that it’s easy to not realise it – you get tired, then when you’ve had a big drink you suddenly get a burst of energy – that’s why! Refill your bottle where-ever possible and always try to reuse your own bottles. It’s heartbreaking to see the amount of plastic bottles that either get burned or buried up there, or even ferried back down the mountain on porter’s backs.

Be aware it’s quite possible to get heat exhaustion up on in the mountains too, even if it feels cold. The wind can deceive you about hot you are getting under the intense sun in these exposed environments. Keep drinking, bring a hat, t-shirts, sunglasses and sunscreen. Many of the villages have communal taps that you can use for free water – most are fine to drink from, but check if it’s safe with a guide or local first, and that it’s ok for you to use it. If you are unsure about the water quality, use purification tablets or a purifying device – a few tablets is always a good idea to put in your pack and they weigh nothing..

4 – Get your Beauty Sleep

This sounds like common sense but there’s some specific things worth knowing about sleep on your trek. If you’re doing long days, make sure to get a good night’s sleep. You usually start trekking early, 6-8am, to get good distance before the punishing midday sun arrives. Get to bed early if you can, you aren’t guaranteed a great sleep – hotel/teahouse beds can be hard and uncomfortable in Nepal and your body will probably be aching from the phsyical work. I usually bring some Paracetamol or Ibuprofen to take at night to ease muscle aches and pains. Once you get to higher altitudes, it gets very cold at night, so be sure to bring thermal under-layers you can wear to bed. On the plus side, many lodges have huge woolen or feather blankets at these heights, and don’t be afraid to ask for another if you’re getting cold. Sometimes you may even want to downgrade your blanket, as the huge ones can get so hot!

Earplugs are a good idea to protect against noisy late-coming trekkers and the inevitable morning barking, rooster crowing and general bustle. Sometimes interior walls are no more than the thickness of plywood. I also recommend an eye mask as sometime blinds or curtains are thin or ineffective, and the sun rises early. Bear in mind that many lodges are right on the trail, so even if you want a lie-in, you’ll often be hearing porters, mule bells and trek groups passing as early as 6am in the morning! So, go to bed early, and allow yourself extra sleeping time in case you have a restless night. Nothing hurts a trek day more than a poor night’s sleep beforehand!


5 – Showers and Toilets

Be prepared to accept that once you get into the mountains, the “luxuries” you take for granted at home don’t really apply up here. First of all, showers are not that common. If you can find them, you usually have to pay, and the water supply is limited. And your shower might well be a freezing cold one! You can find hot showers in a few lodges, but they cost extra. After days of trekking though, sometimes you’ll want to splash out! Get used to being smelly – don’t worry, everyone else is too! Don’t waste your valuable weight limits on unnecessary toiletries like shower gel and beauty products. Village stores on the mountains sell little shampoo and soap sachets which are great. Do some research though into environmentally friendly options that you could bring – remember that in a lot of places, your soap goes right into a drain and then straight out into one of those lovely mountain rivers!

Toilets are a mixed bag on these treks. Western toilets are present in many places, but in others you will find the classic Asian squat toilet. Cleanliness varies and be prepared for some smelly ones! Do your homework so you know how to use a squat toilet, and be prepared for aching thighs – it really kills, especially for guys! Usually you flush and clean using a bucket of water you can fill from a tap inside the booth. Bring your own toilet paper, biodegradable if possible, though you can also buy it in the stores along the way. Or wipe Nepalese style, with your hand (you better wash it well)! Always the left though – read up on it! Because toilet hygiene can be quite poor in Nepal, always wash your hands thoroughly before handling food, and I also recommend a little bottle of antibiotic hand gel – if you get sick up there, it’s really not fun!

Every Little Helps

I hope these have been handy for you, it’s these little things you won’t learn about in the guide books which can make a big difference in the quality of your trek – so now you know what to expect. If you’re heading to Annapurna or Everest Base Camp, I wish you safe and happy trekking! Check out the AlienAdv blog for more practical mountain info articles, and until next time, folks!

Travelmates: Asia

When you’re backpacking, a lot of time the photos you that you share are missing a vital part of the picture – your travelling companions. By looking through my images from the last five years, you’d be forgiven for thinking I am a lone traveller exploring by myself. But of course although I am very independent, I still enjoy having travelmates and meet loads of people during the course of my travels, many of whom become great friends.

To show a different side of the story, here’s a collection of the better pictures of some of the fellow travellers I met in South East Asia. I don’t normally like to take photos of travelmates – mainly because they aren’t there to be my model! But occasionally I would force them in front of my lens for a quick snap!

Travelmate Backpacker Writing Diary Slow Boat Laos

It’s great to have like-minded people to share your experiences with and I met so many great people along the way, the backpacker circuit in SE Asia is a good way to meet travelmates, as limited hostels and popular transport routes naturally bring backpackers together.

Travelmate Backpackers Boat Thailand Khao Sok

I ended up travelling with some of them for months and now have a network of people dotted around the world who I met on my travels. Travelling solo is a liberating experience but sometimes sharing it is even better. Here’s to travelmates – miss you all! Check out the gallery below, click to enlarge.


Nepal – 5 Overlooked Destinations

As many visitors to Nepal dedicate much of their trip to the tourist hubs of Kathmandu, Pokhara and Himalayan trekking, I wanted to share some overlooked destinations. I spent nearly three months in this amazing country (on a tight budget), and so had time to follow up on tips from locals and ex-pats of extra things to check out in Nepal. This led me to alternative locations that I wouldn’t have otherwise found, or perhaps bothered with. They are either culturally interesting, or offer a different experience to other parts of Nepal. Most of these spots aren’t too hard to get to, so be sure to factor them into your trip if you have the time!

1 – Bandipur


Sunrise at Bandipur: the faint ridgeline at the far top left is the Himalayas.

Nepal’s “lowlands” have some famous sunrise spots for epic views of the Himalayan mountains, such as Pokhara and Bhaktapur, but the quaint hilltop town of Bandipur has possibly the best. A steep twenty minute pre-dawn climb from the town center may leave you out of breath, but the view is definitely worth it – a 360 degree panorama over the lowlands, hills, mountains and finally the epic Himalayas towering beyond. It’s one of the best places in Nepal to get a sense of the mind boggling magnitude of the Himalayas thanks to the vast scale on offer here. If you’re lucky you’ll also get a sea of cloud covering the valley floors making for a really magical experience. Even if you’re too tired to catch the sunrise, the views around Bandipur are stunning at any time of the day – with the Himalayas clearly visible when its not too hazy or cloudy.

Bandipur is very laid back compared to Nepal’s other towns. Incredibly for this country, and props to the Bandipur council – traffic is banned in the town center making this a peaceful place. This combined with attractive guest houses, winding paved streets, bright colours and a street cafe/restaurant culture makes it feel very Mediterranean. Other things to do around Bandipur include mid-level forest and hill walks, mountain biking, cheap paragliding, and an adventurous cave tour. But really, the best thing about Bandipur is that its the perfect place to wind down for a few days and relax after the madness of Nepal’s cities, or to recover from a strenuous mountain trek. There’s a range of accommodation here, from super cheap guest houses to high end hotels. Infrequent tourist buses run here from the major tourist hubs, or you can make your way to the town of Dumre on the main road, and catch a local bus or jeep from there. Be warned, the narrow winding mountain road up to Bandipur is not for the faint-hearted (but it is at least sealed) – featuring low barriers and sheer cliff drops on one side – welcome to Nepal! Trust me though, the views once you get there are worth it!

2 – Chitwan National Park

Cute baby rhino having a snooze at Chitwan National Park. This infant was rescued after being orphaned when a tiger attacked and killed its mother, it managed to escape with minor wounds to its face. It seemed very content in the lodge garden!

With Nepal best known for the Himalayas, most people are pretty skeptical when you tell them that you can go on safari in Nepal. But sure enough, a lengthy bus ride down to Chitwan in the south reveals a completely different geography – a flat landscape of farmland which fleshes out with jungle and grassland as you approach the very touristy hub of Chitwan village. There’s a bunch of safari activities to do here – from elephant treks to bush walking, canoe rides and jeep tours. Aside from the likely chance of spotting wild rhinos, there’s a host of wildlife in this park you may spot including wild elephants, monkeys and boar. Going deeper into the park is usually needed to stand a chance of seeing the elusive sloth bears and Begnal tigers – good luck! If you can’t afford an expensive safari, don’t worry – I did one of the cheap package deals, starting with a peaceful misty sunrise river canoe trip, followed by a an adrenaline-pumping bush walk where you may come face to face with wild rhinos, elephants, wild pigs and other bush life. At lunch there was elephant washing in the river with their mahmouts (handlers) – which is great fun – but take a towel! The afternoon activity was an elephant jungle trek where we got really close to the wild rhinos, who were unphased by the horde of tourist-loaded elephants surrounding them. Be sure to take some bottom padding as the wooden elephant seating platforms are rock hard – super uncomfortable!

At the end of the day you can enjoy a cheap beer down at the river’s beach and watch the sunset over the grassland with the Himalayas in the distance. At night, the Tharu cultural dance show is also a good watch, showcasing traditional dances with energetic music and amazing costumes. Chitwan may be a very touristy spot but it’s definitely worth visiting for the wildlife and a completely different experience to the rest of Nepal.

3 – Kiritipur

De-husking rice in the streets of Kiritipur

De-husking rice in the streets of Kiritipur

This little hill town, only half an hour from Kathmandu, is a charming place to explore and surprisingly tourist-free. When we visited in low season, we didn’t see a single foreigner! There’s a few nice temples and shrines in Kiritipur, but the main reason to visit is its colourful architecture, narrow winding streets and friendly locals. Its a great place to see a slightly more sedate and genuine Nepalese lifestyle away from Kathmandu, yet is only a stone throw away from the city.

The hilltop also has great vistas over the Kathmandu valley. To get to Kiritipur, you can catch a local bus from the main bus station in Kathmandu, or its an affordable taxi ride. You could even cycle, as some of the locals do – although you’d want a mountain bike for the steep streets. A perfect place to get a slice of “real Nepal”.

4 – Pashupatinath Temple


This large temple complex on the outskirts of Kathmandu is often overlooked by tourists, yet is one of the most interesting Hindu temples in the country. Built on the banks of the holy Bagmati river, Pashupatinath is religiously significant and popular with worshippers. You may see cremations and funeral ceremonies by the river banks, as well as other ceremonies at this busy temple. Its a moving experience to witness the public funerals here, and if one is in progress when you arrive its important to be respectful. However, Pashupatinath isn’t all doom and gloom – there’s plenty of other things to see here – including some great old architecture and a forest path leading up to many lovely old stupas.

There’s also a large colony of the cheeky macaque monkeys here. As with all monkeys in Asia, be wary as they can be aggressive, but are fun to watch. Pashupatinath has a more serene vibe than the other Kathmandu temples and its large size makes it seem quieter – it’s a nice place to observe locals performing mediation, ceremonies and rituals. Its also relatively free of the tourist plague – a few “babus” (holy men) ply tourists for paid photographs and there’s some unsolicited guides, but generally harassment is very low and tourist numbers small. Allow an hour to explore the whole complex, plus extra time if there are ceremonies to watch. Getting here is easiest via organised tours or just grabbing a cheap taxi and exploring yourself. Taking local buses to and from this location is a bit of a nightmare, unless you have a Nepalese speaker to help.



In the far north of Nepal, just miles from the Tibetan border, lies the small trekking town of Jomsom. Nestled below the Annapura Himalayas, it acts as a starting point for the epic 30 day Annapurna circuit which loops the whole mountain range, or as a base for shorter treks. However, you don’t need to be really into trekking in order to make the trip to Jomsom worthwhile – it’s worth a visit just to experience this region. The scenery in this part of Nepal is unique and stunning – a barren and rocky landscape reminiscent of Afghanistan, with strange rock formations and the Himalayas towering overhead. The people in this region have Tibetan features and the villages are very different to other parts of Nepal, buildings are painted white with flat roofs, and firewood is neatly stacked on top. Coloured prayer flags ripple in the wind, stupas and cairns sit on clifftops and woolly yaks and mules haul farm goods. Although the landscape seems barren at first glance, in fact its an orchard growing region, famous for apples and cider.

The scenery around Jomsom is very impressive, and its easy to see with some fairly easy and flat day treks from the village offering amazing views. I also recommend ascending to the village of nearby Muktinath (which also has guest houses). The journey to Muktinath reveals even more amazing views of the Himalayas on an epic scale, and also has a nice mountainside temple and handicrafts. There’s even more trekking to be done here, just be wary of altitude sickness – which we suffered from – as Mukinath is quite a bit higher than Jomsom and the trip can be done in a few hours if you use the local jeeps (which are a great way to meet the locals, if uncomfortable!) – which might not give your body time to acclimatise. Be sure to read up about altitude sickness before you go (this also applies to other trekking in the Himalayas).

Jomsom itself has some lovely guest houses, and be sure to try out the local specialities of yak cheese and yak steak – yummy! Getting to Jomsom if you’re not trekking there can be tricky – if you can afford it, and are feeling brave, opt for the rather scary flight on a tiny plane from Pokhara. Or go it alone on a long bus/jeep combo also starting from Pokhara. A few years ago, this was a long and uncomfortable two day (or longer) journey with local buses and unreliable connections on an entirely dirt road, and it seems that plans to upgrade it have not yet materialised. Don’t rely on many locals speaking English on this journey, but you may be joined by other travellers and locals are friendly and will be happy to assist if you run into trouble. The long drive is worth it though – the views on the drive up get better and better as you enter the mountains.

Get Out There!

I hope that gives you some new ideas for your trip to Nepal. I definitely recommend trying to get to some of the less touristy places like these, and also highly recommend homestays and accepting invites from locals – be sure to take up on the hospitality of these amazingly generous people (assuming you feel safe to do so) and see a bit of the “real” Nepal!